Prosecutor in Morton Case Pleads to Contempt and is Disbarred
Former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson entered a plea to criminal contempt for deliberately withholding exculpatory evidence pointing to the innocence of Michael Morton, who was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2011 after serving 25 years for his wife’s murder. Anderson, who sent Governor Rick Perry a letter resigning as a district judge on September 23rd, received 10 days in Williamson County Jail, a $500 fine, 500 hours of community service and permanently surrendered his license to practice law. This marks an extremely rare instance, and perhaps the first time, that a prosecutor has been criminally punished for failing to turn over exculpatory evidence that led to a wrongful conviction.
After Morton was exonerated, the Innocence Project filed a report calling for a Court of Inquiry to investigate whether Anderson engaged in criminal conduct by failing to turn over evidence to the trial court that pointed to Morton’s innocence. In April, Judge Louis Sturns issued an opinion finding that there was probable cause to believe that Anderson was guilty of criminal contempt and concealment of official records for deliberately disobeying the trial judge’s order to disclose exculpatory evidence at the request of the defense and ordered Anderson’s arrest. Anderson’s plea covered those charges as well as ethics charges brought against him by the State Bar of Texas.
In order to determine whether other people may have been wrongly convicted because of Anderson’s misconduct, the Innocence Project has partnered with the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the Innocence Project of Texas to coordinate an independent review of certain other cases that Anderson worked on during his tenure as Williamson County District Attorney.
Innocence Project Heads Back to West Virginia for Buffey Hearing
On December 4, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and Senior Staff Attorney Nina Morrison will return to court in Harrison County, West Virginia, seeking to overturn the rape and robbery conviction of Joseph Buffey based on DNA evidence. Buffey, who was just 19 when he was convicted of sexually assaulting and robbing an 83-year-old woman, was pressured by his lawyer into pleading guilty to the crime. DNA testing on the rape kit has definitively excluded Buffey and points to another male, also from Harrison County and in prison on other charges, as the real perpetrator.
Through investigation and discovery, we have uncovered documentation that the state conducted DNA testing at the time of the crime which also excluded Buffey as the perpetrator, but which was not turned over to his lawyer before his guilty plea was accepted by the Court. Harrison County prosecutors, who fought against efforts to upload the profile into the federal DNA database, are now arguing that he must have acted as an accomplice to the man whose DNA was in the rape kit, and that somehow the victim failed to notice a second man during a vicious attack in which the victim testified at trial that the sole assailant took her around the house at knifepoint to search for cash and then took her back upstairs to the bedroom and raped her.
Read about the history of this case.
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Why I Give
Los Angeles, CA
Artist and Writer
Both my parents imparted values of social justice as a basis of living a good and moral life. In fact, being raised Jewish to me was all about civil rights and social justice. My family didn’t belong to a temple or worship in traditional ways. Instead of Sunday school, I went on Saturdays to a kinderschul where we learned about the parallels between the struggles of the Jewish people and all forms of oppression.
I was extremely close with my father, who was a particularly kind and empathetic man. He died over 20 years ago. This past October would have been his 90th birthday. I’ve known for a long time that in some way, I wanted to mark that occasion but I wasn’t sure just how to do it.
I realized that making a donation to the Innocence Project was the best way I could pay tribute to him in a way which would genuinely honor him even though he died before the organization even began. When I distill my desires for what I’d like to accomplish with making donations, a lot of it has to do with redressing the ills of privilege. It’s so easy to think that people are in the spot they’re in because of their actions, their poor choices or their mistakes. The truth is that a lot of people are in the spot they’re in because of the circumstances of their birth. The opportunity to directly confront privilege is rare. The Innocence Project, in addition to raising awareness about the profound inequities in the criminal justice system, gets in there and actually rights wrongs.
The minute it occurred to me, I realized that my father would have been deeply inspired by their work. I’ve missed my father every single day since he’s been gone, and on his 90th birthday, I was glad to see that he was in a circuitous way, still a force for good things.
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